One day, heat and cold came to the conclusion that they were too far apart: "Co-existence is the answer," they resolved.
Both of them thought that the new arrangement was fine, and they huddled together, mutually comforting, until each heard someone say:"Isn't it strange that nothing is hot or cold these days? The only temperature that seems to exist is warmth."
So they separated, and the only warmth to be found after that was in things not yet hot, or on the way to becoming cold.
—Idries Shah, Reflections
"Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect."
—Sermon on the Mount
In the Christian tradition we are in the time of Lent, so in keeping with the custom I have taken the opportunity to give something up. This is not because I am a Christian either in a conventional or genuine sense. I am Jewish by birth and cultural affiliation, and psychotransformist by intent. Still, I love Jesus, who seems to be, as he said, the fulfillment of a prophecy, and was, at least in the stories, a master of fasting and sacrifice, even to the point of sacrificing his own existence for the future.
So for these forty six days of Lent I decided to give up criticism. Or, I should clarify, I decided to attempt to give up criticism, for the habit of criticism, I discovered, is rooted more deeply in my person than I realized. It is as though there are a whole set of subjects which my psyche assumes to be immune from acceptance—myself, the government, my children, my wife, academic scholars, Hollywood. Low and behold, I discovered, when I least expect it, criticism arises, impelled by the accompanying emotions of disdain and contempt. The realization of the extent to which criticism is rooted in me has been a real shocker.
The really strange application of criticism is with regard to myself. I saw this after I noticed I said something stupid, and promptly called myself an idiot. Then I paused, realizing I was criticizing myself, and wondered, wait, who is it that I am saying is stupid? In other words, if I am talking to myself, who is I and who is myself? Who is the one that is stupid, and who is the one to judge, and by whose standards are they judging?
In looking it appeared that it was my mind talking to my body. But then my mind had given rise to the stupid utterance in the first place. It was all very confusing, and I began to think about the Freudian model of the psyche with its ego, superego, and id. I guessed I was witnessing the superego talking to the id via the ego. This framing in Freudian theory wasn't really any consolation, and I renewed the intention to watch and resist the impulse to criticize.
The next time it came up I was talking about some business matters with my partner, giving what I thought was constructive advice for how to improve a situation. "That may be so," she replied, "but you sound really critical!" Unbeknownst to her I had given up criticism for Lent, and I was shocked into silence by her comment. In the next moment I saw a stealthy, devilish impulse—to judge my slip-up and apparent inability to refrain from criticism. This one I caught before it gained momentum. "You're right," I replied. "Thank you for pointing that out."
Gradually I've been able to catch the impulse sooner, and I see more of how the pervasive inclination works. It is effectively a defense against reality. In the judgment and criticism is an implicit rejection of things as they are. The impulse may include a remedy to a problem, or flaw, but it is purely reactive, unrooted from any acknowledgement let alone acceptance of the facts or truth of the situation. It is accompanied by a stance of superiority if not arrogance, a pushing away of the perception as though contact with it will taint or harm.
Without the interference of criticism, what remains is simply what is. However difficult it may be to digest, there is a relaxed wholeness in acceptance of the thing. Acceptance is not the end. Rather it is the beginning. From acceptance something can be addressed from what it is in itself, rather than from my particular, subjective reaction to it. The reaction of the critical disposition is a kind of slavery, availing remedies that last only until achieving satisfaction of the itch. Whereas in acceptance is a kind of freedom to act.
In leaving off criticism, I encounter an appreciation of the inherent pattern of things. In the pattern of is-ness everything is in context, and is precisely the only way it can be, be it an aspect of myself, family and friends, or the "whole world." Without criticism I see that if things could be different, they would be, and if I am going to have any impact towards raising the level of myself, my life, or the world, I must begin with an acknowledgement and acceptance of things, precisely, perfectly, as they are.